The Sean Whetstone Column
West Ham United Supporters’ Club also known as the Hammers Social Club was formed 70 years ago in 1947.
It was founded by six members with their headquarters in a front room in Wigston road which was the home of the then Club Secretary Mr Syd Russell. Their existence came into being after a public appeal from the then West Ham board of directors who invited suggestions on how to repair the Boleyn Ground which was badly bomb damaged by a German flying bomb in 1944.
A few years earlier during the 1939/40 Football League season only three matches old when World War Two broke out. The League programme was immediately abandoned as the Government introduced measures to restrict large gatherings at cinemas, race-tracks and, inevitably, football grounds. Regional competitions were set up in place of the Football League, with West Ham United taking on local rivals from across London and the Home Counties between October 1939 and May 1946. Football League competition only resumed for West Ham after the Second World War with a trip to Plymouth to face Argyle on 31 August 1946 in the Second Division.
Relations between West Ham board and the Supporters’ club didn’t start off well with the directors writing to the newly formed Supporters’ club on 17th December 1947 suggesting the newly formed social club had no special status and deserved no special treatment so a relationship with the board was neither required or wanted. Six months later the social club requested a face to face meeting with the board but again the directors rejected the requested the request referring the club to the letter they wrote last December. The relationship at the time was described as distant at best or hostile at worst.
The social club wrote again and asked the West Ham directors to agree to a name West Ham United Supporters’ Club or West Ham United Football Supporters’ Club. In the board minutes of the time they recorded "We, West Ham United FC were not interested in what tile they gave themselves’
Despite various knockbacks, the social club grew and they moved to Hartley Ave School around 1948 and opened up membership to everyone. They stayed at the school until the 1964 FA Cup final after which they bought three caravans which they used around the Boleyn Ground.
The second annual dinner of the Supporters’ Club was held at Robin Hood Hotel with 120 paying members for the gala event. Membership at that time stood at 400 and a local newspaper article talked about increasing membership to 1,000.
Probably the most influential figure in the history of the West Ham Supporters’ Club was local politician Councillor Tom Jenkinson who became chair of the Supporters club in 1951
Thomas Alfred Jenkinson (28 November 1911 – November 1994) was a Labour Party politician who was active in the East Ham area. His working-class roots came from the Popular workhouse where he lived with his mother and father in 1923. He broke free of the workhouse in 1926 when he found work as a delivery boy.
He was a member of East Ham Coropration, he was the last mayor of East Ham in 1964-65 and was elected unopposed to the successor Newham London Borough Council to represent the South Ward in 1964, he was re-elected in 1968, 1971 and 1974. Following boundary changes in 1978 he was elected as a councillor representing Custom House and Silvertown Ward. He also sat as a member of the Greater London Council representing Newham North East from 1973–1977 and Newham South from 1977–1981.
In 1990 he returned to Newham Council as a councillor for South Ward. He held the seat at the 1994 borough council election, dying in office later that year.
It was Jenkinson who finally forged a close relationship between the social club and the directors through then West Ham chairman Reg Pratt. They were to set up a joint fundraising campaign with the Supporters club running jackpot, lottery and pools competitions. The supporters club purchased a caravan for £250 to make sales from.
It was the supporters club which founded the Hammer of the year award at the beginning of the 1957/58 season when members wanted to recognise the outstanding player with an official award. The first recipient was defender Andy Malcolm, whose form helped Ted Fenton’s side to win the Division Two title on the final day of a memorable campaign.
In 1962 the Supporters Club gave the club over £4,000. In the following 18 months, £23,000 was given to the board at West Ham which they spent on
improvements to the East Stand, to the training ground at Chadwell Heath and the building of the new ‘A’ block in the West Stand which opened 1965.
By 1964 the Supporters’ Club Annual Dinner invited West Ham Chairman Reg Pratt as their main speaker with the FA Cup on show on the main table.
In 1972 a piece of land was leased by the then chairman Mr Tom Jenkinson with a mortgage from West Ham to build the existing clubhouse in Castle-street.
On 25th March 1993, the clubhouse was refurbished and the social club entered a new lease with Newham council for 99 years with £30,000 up front and a peppercorn rent of five pence per year.
In 1980, when West Ham won the Cup, Tom Jenkinson borrowed the FA Cup and a lot of the Club members had their photos taken with it.
By May 2016 the Supporters’ club had a thriving membership and on the last game at the Boleyn Ground against Manchester United, they took £15,000 in takings at the club.
In contrast, when West Ham moved to Stratford in August 2016 they took just £21 in takings when West Ham took on Bournemouth for the first game at the London Stadium.
The club continued to lose £7,000 per month last season until the bank reserves dwindled to nothing and a member stepped in to personally bankroll them.
Last month the club sadly closed their Castle Street premises doors after a health and safety audit.
Membership secretary Paul Walker recently told the Newham Recorder
“We came in here and we thought that some of the stuff didn’t look very safe, so we agreed to have a health and safety expert come in,” he said.
“I think we underestimated the problems. The maintenance was not up to date, so the insurance certificate was totally invalid.
“We opened the boiler cupboard and there were a load of fag butts in there. Then we found out that the flue was not connected to the boiler so it is seeping carbon monoxide and there are asbestos panels in there and someone has been smoking.
“The boiler is condemned, the fire doors are not compliant. I remember Grenfell and we didn’t want it to happen here, so as a committee we unanimously decided to close,” said Walker. We had 500 or 600 people here on match days, but the fire precautions were not connected, so what might have happened doesn’t bear thinking about.”
“We reckon we need a couple of hundred thousand to get things right,” said Paul Christmas. “You have to think about bringing things up to date. We are not in it for the glory or for personal gain, we just want to save this club"
“The question most people have asked us when we were looking for a venue close to the new stadium, was ‘Aren’t West Ham helping you?’ said Christmas.
The Supporters’ Club have set up a Crowdfunding Just Giving page at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/whufcsc
2017 Membership is still open for Supporters’ club and new members can sign up at https://www.whufcsc.com/membership-1
The new venue at Stour Space is open from 10am until 10:30 pm for weekend matches and 4pm until 8pm for weekday matches. Breakfast will be served from 10am weekends with food available throughout the day to members. Matchday four pints jugs will be available as well as a bottle bar.
Funds raised from the new matchday bar will be used to help maintain and keep the Castle Street premises and also to help fund a possible permanent venue closer to the London Stadium. More details at https://www.whufcsc.com/stour-space
Supporters’ club committee member Paul Christmas thinks the Castle Street premises is worth saving telling the Newham Recorder:
“Remember there are 850 flats going up just outside and we want to be an asset for the local community as well as West Ham United supporters,” he said.
“We are refusing to fade and die and we have to give it our best shot. I think there are West Ham fans out there who want to help save us.”
My thanks to Nigel Kahn and Paul Christmas for much of the background in writing this article.
Come on you Irons!